It looks like a kind of lamplit vicious fairyland behind me

Thomson and Johnson were joke characters created by RLS and Baxter when they they were students at the university of Edinburgh.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 885.]

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 73-74]

[Chalet am Stein,] Davos, December 5, 1881.

My dear Charles,

[…] We have been in miserable case here; my wife worse and worse; and now sent away with Lloyd for sick nurse, I not being allowed to go down. I do not know what is to become of us; and you may imigine how rotten I have been feeling, and feel now, alone with my weasel-dog and my German maid, on the top of a hill here, heavy mist and thin snow all about me, and the devil to pay in general. I don’t care so much for solitude as I used to; results, I suppose, of marriage.

‘The Milk Maid’, by the Italian painter Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) []

Pray write me something cheery. A little Edinburgh gossip, in Heaven’s name. Ah! what would I not give to steal this evening with you through the big, echoing, college archway, and away south under the street lamps, and away to dear Brash’s, now defunct!

Edinburgh evening []

Edinburgh Law School []


Edinburgh street lamps []

Street quote, Edinburgh []

n Edinburgh university years, Brash & Son, wine and spirit merchants of 44 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, had been a special butt for some of the youthful pranks of RLS and his friends.

In Edinburgh university years, Brash & Son, wine and spirit merchants of 44 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, had been a special butt for some of the youthful pranks of RLS and his friends.


But the old time is dead also, never, never to revive. It was a sad time too, but so gay and so hopeful, and we had such sport with all our low spirits and all our distresses, that it looks like a kind of lamplit [vicious] fairyland behind me. O for ten Edinburgh minutes – sixpence between us, and the ever-glorious Lothian Road, or dear mysterious Leith Walk!

Lothian Road, Edinburgh, 1882 []

Lothian Road, Edinburgh []

Leith Walk, Edinburgh []


Leith Walk, Edinburgh []

Leith Walk, Edinburgh []


But here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling; here in this strange place, whose very strangeness would have been heaven to him then; and aspires, yes, C.B., with tears, after the past.

‘Tom Bowling’ by Charles Dibdin (1745-1814)


See what comes of being left alone. Do you remember Brash? […] the sheet of glass that we followed along George Street?

George Street, Edinburgh []

Here is the George Street anecdote, reported by biographers: Baxter and RLS were proceeding along George Street on their way to college when they met 6 men carrying on their shoulders a large sheet of glass, rolled in a dark cloth. The men were moving with great care and gravity, and the effect was like that of a funeral procession. This struck RLS as irresistibly comic, so the two friends, lifting off their hats and wih downcast visage, fell into line as chief mourners []



Former Granton Hotel, Edinburgh []

The Granton Hotel anecdote, as narrated by RLS himself: “Baxter and I were at the Public Room at the Granton Hotel when 3 serious-looking youngish men came in and sat down to dinner. The dish was taken off and they were beginning to help it when I strode across the room took my position at the empty side of their table and remarking firmly that I would allow nobody to eat like heathen in my presence, inflicted upon them a prodigiously long grace. The man who was opposite to me looked at me severely – ‘Perhaps you are not aware, Sir, that I am a missionary from Aberdeen,’ said he. Charles leaped at him – ‘All my life I have been longing to meet a missionary from Aberdeen,’ he cried in an ecstasy. Needless to say that we brought our glasses over and made a merry afternoon of it all five.” Former Granton Hotel, Edinburgh []

the night at Bonny mainhead?

Arthur’s Seat seen from the old Burgh Muir: Mehew reads ‘Bonny mainhead’ as ‘Barrymuirhead’, ‘Boroughmuir’ or ‘Burghmuir’, an area to the South of Edinburgh []

the compass near the sign of the Twinkling Eye? the night I lay on the pavement in misery?

I swear it by the eternal sky

Johnson – nor – Thomson ne’er shall die!

Yet I fancy they are dead too; dead like Brash.




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